Convened by: Sara Hyde
[email protected]

Attendees: Nigel Munson, Alexandra Dawson, Sophie Steel, Caroline Dargelos, Katie Brier, Abigail Oscroft, Silvano Griffith, Nico Pimparé, Sian Rees, Zack Polanski, Firdos Ali, Michelle Inniss, Maddy Moore, Nabilah Said, Erin Burbridge, Katie Jackson, Hari Ramakrishnan, Amanda Lane, Natasha Sutton-Williams, Amélie Rich, Pip Hambley, Ben Waring, Hamish Clayton, Caroline Pearce, Subika, Laura Hopwood, Chris Garrard, Felicity Du Jeu, Lucy Sherratt, Tassos Stevens.

Big, lively discussion!
Prison system at the moment provides nothing for short-stay prisoners.
Prisons at the moment are fire fighting and there’s no vision for what happens within them.
But most creative work that currently happens in prison is very prescriptive, i.e. about NPS use or to aid violence reduction. Can you do arts for arts’ sake in prisons?
How do you get creative work done in prisons a wider audience?

What kind of work?
- A one man show for 10 audience members about masculinity, worked well with veterans (Tim)
- Green Curtain Theatre’s show set in HMP Wandsworth in 1917 (Ben)
- Shakespeare – so many parallel experiences in what may seem extreme to other people (murders etc). Caroline (RSC Education)
- Interesting things can be done with form in such a restrictive environment.

Is there space too for more participant led work? And not just being performed to? YES.
Then, how as practitioners do you process what you hear? How do you not take stuff home?
- Good, daily debrief. Knowing what your role is.

How do you make sure anyone delivering project knows all the unspoken rules of the prison environment, so that you don’t inadvertently get people in trouble because you are pursuing a creative aim over prison’s rules. Story about encouraging people to rap in a lunch break led to whole project being pulled.

Golden rule: do not be at risk of unintentionally making anything worse for your participants.

If you’re there as a creative practitioner, how much are you there to punish/to reinforce that the participants are there to be rehabilitated?
- The loss of liberty is the punishment. You have to accept who is in the room as a human being and work with them, take it from there. A bit like open space. Again, know what your role is – what you’re there to do and what you’re not.

Do any of these ideas pass the “public acceptability test”, the Daily Mail test?
Who’s voices get heard in the work?
What about the less palatable voices?
What about people who are victims of some of these people’s crimes?

How much of this is participant led?

What’s it like to do this work and make connections with people and then leave? The ethics of forming attachment. How do you set rules for yourself about attachment?

You open a space, you offer. Prison arts work is much like open space.

Doesn’t feel ok to do a day. To drop in and drop out. How do you keep it going? What’s the legacy? Something you could leave in situ, like writing workshops. People could write long after project had gone.
How do you connect work with industry people outside?

It’s about putting work in a particular place and understanding what that place requires.

Person had delivered workshop/performance in prison. Long after the arts organisation left, the communication that was opened up between those in prison, continued.

Sharing work through internal prison TV or prison radio.

How do you involve staff in the work? There’s a facebook group for prison staff to anonymously share about work stress.

Could some of the work have a restorative justice bent? Doing something obviously restorative.

This initially is a single site project that will take 2-3 years to realise but then could be replicated elsewhere. Part of it is getting a template that could be replicated or a toolkit to replicate it, given huge difference between individual prisons.

Project delivery with probation, people with high theft convictions/substance misuse. This work has provoked questions about how change happens in individuals. Having to think about impact and what is actually happening. Not sure current metrics or theories of change are the right ones.

How do you get theatre to people who don’t get theatre?

Lots of amazing ethical questions posed/discussed and ideas pitched. The important role of those with lived experience in bringing project together/co-leading project.

Next steps: write notes, email everyone who left their email address and wants to be involved. LARGE GAP (a year) whilst specific permission sought. Email everyone again and see who wants to be involved still!